US Ambassador Richard Jones said on Monday it is unlikely that convicted Pentagon spy Jonathan Pollard will ever be released and that the fact that the US did not execute him should be seen as an act of clemency.
Responding to audience questions during an academic conference at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Jones said Pollard's crimes appear especially heinous to many Americans because he was caught spying for a friendly power.
"It came out in the trial very clearly, Jonathan Pollard took money for what he did, he sold out his country," Jones said. "The fact that he wasn't executed is the [only] mercy that Jonathan Pollard will receive."
Pollard, a US Navy civilian intelligence analyst, sold military secrets to Israel while working at the Pentagon. He was arrested in 1985 and pleaded guilty at his trial. He is serving a life sentence in a US federal prison.
"This is a very emotional issue in the United States," Jones said. "I know he was helping a friend, but that's what makes it even more emotional for Americans, if a friend would cooperate in aiding and abetting someone who is committing treason against his own country."
Pollard's wife, Esther, slammed the ambassador's remarks as "malicious incitement" and "gross slander" and urged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to send Jones home for his "lies and slander."
"Jones's declaration that Pollard 'got off easy' because he deserved to be shot is wantonly malicious, especially since he knows that Jonathan did not commit treason, which is the only crime which carries a death penalty," Esther Pollard said in a statement.
"In point of fact, Jonathan was charged with the least serious of the espionage statutes: one count of passing classified information to an ally. The median sentence for this offense is two to four years," she said.
Esther Pollard also said that Jones's claim that her husband took money and sold out his country was baseless.
"Jonathan's indictment specifies that he was not charged with harming the United States, and his sentencing transcript clearly shows that the court recognized this fact. Consequently, the court did not impose a monetary fine as it would have if he he had spied for money.
"Most important of all, Israel formally admitted in 1998 that Jonathan Pollard was a bona fide Israeli agent. The formal recognition of Jonathan as an Israeli agent puts the lie to any claims that Jonathan spied out of mercenary motives," she said.
Jones's assertion that the US was acting within standard international norms with regard to the Pollard case is "laughable," Esther Pollard said, adding that no one else in the history of the United States has every received a life sentence for spying for an ally.
She said former US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross wrote in his book The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace that Pollard is being held by the US as a bargaining chip to be used against Israel.
The Prime Minister's Office had no response to Jones's comments. The government has traditionally shied away from publicly trading brickbats with the US over the issue.
Despite calls by some politicians and pro-Pollard activists here for Jones to be recalled for his statements, his comments were likely to be received well in Washington, where the State Department, Justice Department and intelligence community like US government officials to talk very tough on Pollard, officials in Jerusalem said.
US government officials, who almost never bring up the issue on their own, are consistently very tough when discussing Pollard in order - it is widely believed - that no one get the impression there is any "wiggle room" on the issue of his release.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.